Planning is a Key to Success
Collect Information about the Student WAY Before Your First Counseling Session
Before ever meeting your new counseling student, there are several steps that you must take. A good therapist or counselor is highly prepared and has all of the needed information. Collecting information from both the student’s teacher(s) and parent can help you to determine how best to build rapport with your new client.
Step One… A Great Counseling Referral Form
The first step is to use or create a great Counseling Referral form. Sometimes districts or schools provide a basic referral form. These generic forms are often years old and are rarely are designed to provide the information that I need. That’s why I have created my own! It’s pretty simple for teachers or parents to complete, but gets to the point. Here is my sample for you to see have download if you like it! Just add your own school’s letter head at the top to look more official.
Step 2… Parent Contact for Intake Prior to First Counseling Session
Give those parents a ring and say “hello.” Some parents are comfortable with their child getting counseling, and some a re not. By introducing yourself and sharing your counseling experience and/or typical session activities, you can put them at ease. Many people think of counseling as having their child tell you about problems with the home life. In my experience, school-based counseling is about skill building. So, sharing some of your activities and goals will help them understand what their child will be doing when he or she is pulled out of the classroom.
Talking to parents will also help you collect information about home life and any home factors. Knowing your student before meeting him or her can help guide your initial few sessions. Since children spend most of their non-school time with their families, getting some background is great information.
Step 3…Classroom Observation and/or Teacher Consultation
This is more data collection for your student’s benefit. Sometimes teacher’s perspectives on behavior are a little different from reality. Sometimes they are completely accurate. The goal for your school-based counseling should be to help the child function “in school.” Hence, working with the teacher before and during the student’s counseling can be very helpful for building rapport and being an effective counselor.
Building Rapport through CONSISTENCY
It’s time to meet your student! Did you check with the teacher on some preferred times to pull him or her? There’s usually no good time, right? But, trying to find an ideal and consistent time slot can help your student feel more at ease with coming to your office weekly. Routine and consistency also help with building trust and reducing anxiety.
Just imagine being your student and wondering daily, “When will the counselor pull me from class?” Thoughts like this can create anxiety and stress for sure in students that are already suffering from anxiety, particularly students with Autism. This is because students with Autism can be very fixed mindset and routine based. Any change in routine can lead to anxiety and even classroom disruptions, as they often will ask their teacher multiple times when they can go to counseling if you do not call or send a pass for them.
Tips for Keeping on Schedule
There are two to three things that you can do to keep a consistent counseling schedule. I know it’s hard, but it’s what’s best for your students.
The first is that I create a schedule that I pin up next to my desk. It includes the student’s first name (Confidentiality if someone were to be in my office. It’s rare.), grade, time, IEP monthly minutes, teacher, Room, topic, IEP annual date, and Case holder. I also color-coded the groups just to help. (See Below)
I also put all of my designated time slots on my personal phone calendar. This way, I can check for the tenth time every morning who I am counseling and plan if I hadn’t already. Also, letting my significant other see my schedule helps him to know not to call (aka distract) me prior to or during a counseling session. This is helpful also because if something does come up that makes you need to move your session, you ca move it in your calendar to help you remember that you did not yet see your student that week.
Extra tip… If moving your student’s regular schedule, please let him or her know by calling the teacher or telling him/her in person at some point in the day. It will show that you value their time and want to see them, but have to change their time slot a little. It’s all about building, and maintaining rapport, right?
Finally, I will sometimes use my cell phone alarm. Does this seem extreme? I don’t know. Depends on if you juggle two schools and 10 or more psycho-educational assessments at a time like I do. My daily schedule can be hectic and varies daily. By setting an alarm, you can be sure to have a 3-5 minute reminder to stop chit chatting to your colleague or send a testing student back to class. It’s all about taking the remembering of everything that you have to do in your school day off the table just a little.
Step 4…Choosing your Rapport Activity
THE THREE GOALS FOR RAPPORT BUILDING ACTIVITIES
Goal #1 is getting to know your student. You may already know the presenting problem and some basic history, but getting to know your student from their perspective will help you understand their point of view and empathy for them. It also helps them to like you because all people, not just children, like talking about themselves and feeling listened to. We are the center of our universe. It’s a narcissistic perspective on humans, but its proven by research. Have you ever heard that the best way to get someone to like you is by asking them to do you a favor? I read that somewhere, but have found it to be true. The same principal applies here.
Goal #2 is to building trust. Go over confidentiality in your first counseling session. Explain that you will not share information that is discussed in counseling without their permission with generally two exemptions. The first is that they are in danger or may harm someone else and the other is a court order. When something comes up that you think might help them if you discussed it with their parent or teacher, talk about it and ask permission. Students will often agree, depending on the situation, as it may be something that they want the adult to know, but have difficulty sharing themselves. This has been my experience.
Goal #3 is convincing them that counseling is something that they will enjoy doing. Here’s where picking an activity comes into play. It should be based on what you have learned about your client, and factor in age and if it is group or individual counseling. Here are a few of the different activities that I use often.
If minimal talking and coloring is you or your student’s speed, here is my “All About Me” activity that helps build rapport while decorating your office. Children like seeing their artwork displayed, so this activity can give them a sense of pride every time they visit your office.
Have an old Jenga set sitting around your house? If not, you can buy an imitation one on Amazon for about $5. Then you can write some questions on them that can help you get to knw your student.
Want some fun questions to write on your JENGA? Check out my article on the 25 Fun Rapport Building Questions for School-Based Counseling
Have a deck of cards or a beach ball? The beach ball you will need to purchase and make, but it can be used for several other of my games (Anger Management, Coping Skills, Social Skills, Behavior, etc.) in my TpT store. The beach ball game is great, however, for in-person therapy and can be played outside for social-distancing counseling. If students get a little wild, just have them sit and roll the ball. The beach ball game, or any game, is also great for combining rapport building with working on social skills (turn taking, communication, etc.)
If you don’t have a deck of cards, not to worry!
Just use your phone and go to http://random-cards.com/1-shuffled-deck/ to play the rapport building questions game with virtual “cards”. A regular deck will work as well.
If you are providing counseling via telehealth or teletherapy, this virtual “card game” with rapport building questions can be played using your share screen.
Step 5…Meeting your Student
This is all you. Just be kind, smile, and play your fun activity. Try to engage with your student in discussion when a question from one of your activities brings up something of interest. This is how you will show your student or students that counseling does not have to be this uncomfortable thing that they have to do every week where they just talk about their bad behavior. That’s why games and novel activities are so important for building rapport and providing therapy services. It puts them at ease that counseling can be something enjoyable.
When the Student is Resistant to Counseling
Sometimes students are very resistant to participating in your games or other activities. They just don’t want to talk. I’m talking lots of “Ums”, “I don’t know”, and the silent treatment. It’s the worst! For this rare occasion, I wrote a whole blog article about this (Click here), but in essence, be create with your activities, provide sensory items for comfort, and/or add a peer if individual is just not working.